All Black praises Welsh Lions

Legendary All Blacks hooker Sean Fitzpatrick has praised the contribution of Welsh players on the recent Lions tour of South Africa. [more]

All Black praises Welsh Lions

Legendary All Blacks hooker Sean Fitzpatrick has praised the contribution of Welsh players on the recent Lions tour of South Africa.

The former Kiwi skipper was a keen observer of the 10-match tour of the Republic which ended in a 2-1 series defeat but won the Lions plenty of admirers in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

And Fitzpatrick, who led New Zealand to a hard-fought series victory against the Lions 16 years ago, was particularly impressed with the all-Welsh front row that started the second Test in Pretoria three weeks ago, as well as the half-back pairing of Mike Phillips and Stephen Jones.

"I look at that Welsh front row of [Gethin] Jenkins, [Matthew] Rees and Adam Jones. It’s a pity they didn’t start the first Test," Fitzpatrick told BBC Wales.

"Those three especially [stood out for me]. Rees played well – he’s not the biggest of hookers – but he gets around and does the job.

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"The nine-10 pairing’s fantastic. I thought Jones did really well at 10 under a huge amount of pressure."

Fitzpatrick was also impressed with the impact of Lions forwards coach Warren Gatland – a fellow New Zealander who he expects to lead Wales to further success this season.

"Gats is one that got away really. I was very surprised that New Zealand let him go," added Fitzpatrick.

"He went back to New Zealand to settle there and unfortunately couldn’t get a Super 14 contract and came back over here.
"So it’s a great opportunity for him. I think he’s instilled a bit of belief in these Welsh guys.

"I’m disappointed he got away from New Zealand, but I’m thrilled for Gats. 

"He’s had a tremendous career to date as a coach, albeit a very young and very short career, but he’s got a huge ability and he’s a good man manager too. 

"So he obviously did well on the Lions and I’m sure he’s going to continue to do well for Wales."

In addition to discussing the performances of Welsh tourists, Fitzpatrick, who spoke earlier in the week about his belief that the Lions are the world’s leading rugby brand, again reiterated his desire to see Lions tours continue in the professional game.

The ex-Auckland star has no doubt that Britain and Ireland’s elite should continue to play a leading role in the sport, especially given the nature of the pride and passion associated with playing for against the game’s most-famous touring team.

"I am a huge fan of the Lions. I was privileged to play against them and you only need to look at the support they get. 

"To be at Loftus Versfeld, which is one of the great, traditional grounds of the world and to see a sea of red there just shows what it means to the public in general and I think the Lions – especially on this tour – showed what it meant to them.

"People are talking about abandoning the Lions saying they don’t deserve to be touring because they can’t win a series – I just think that’s total rubbish."

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